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January 11, 2010
U.S. seeks hearts and minds in combatting global jihad

A U.S. Soldier stands in Kandahar province, Afghanistan. Photo: U.S. Air Force, Tech. Sgt. Francisco V. Govea II

An American soldier in Kandahar. Photo: Flickr user

Ambassador S. Azmat Hassan is a former Ambassador of Pakistan to Malaysia, Syria and Morocco and Deputy Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations. He is currently an adjunct professor at Seton Hall University and is a contributing Worldfocus blogger.

Mankind has engaged in violent extremism since Biblical times. Cain became the world’s first terrorist by slaying his brother Abel. Voltaire pessimistically characterized human history as nothing more than a tableau of crimes and misfortunes.

In a sense, America lost its innocence on 9/11. The international community sympathized with Washington but it also said, “Welcome to the real world!”

The Bush administration with its Manichean world view exploited a fearful populace to execute its agenda of “full spectrum dominance” and preemptive war. It invaded two countries — Afghanistan and Iraq — and openly threatened military action against a third: Iran. In the desire to exact retribution, the motivations driving such terrorist attacks were largely ignored. The lives lost and financial resources squandered have been enormous.

More than 8 years have elapsed since the 9/11 atrocity, but it is a moot point if the U.S. is any safer today. That no further attacks on the U,.S. mainland have taken place, suggests that the revamped security structure despite its flaws, is keeping American citizens safe.

What should be clearly understood is that there is no foolproof security system that can prevent committed terrorists from carrying out violent acts against the citizens of another country.

For years, Armenian terrorists were killing Turkish citizens as revenge for the alleged genocide perpetrated by Ottoman Turks on its Armenian subjects during World War I. Israelis and Palestinians have been killing each other since the founding of Israel in 1948. Kashmiris and Indians are doing the same in Indian-administered Kashmir. The list goes on.

The Nigerian underwear bomber’s recent failed attempt to blow up an American airliner, which the media played up, has once again brought a wave of fear to our shores. I wish some senior official of the Obama administration had calmed the public by recalling Roosevelt’s sage advice to his countrymen: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Terrorism is propaganda by deed, since terrorism is theater. Al-Qaeda succeeds every time it plants fear and uncertainty in our hearts and minds. We should get over being overly obsessed about our security. Our despondency comes close to pusillanimity, which runs against the America tradition of courage and fortitude.

Capturing or killing bin Laden and his deputy al-Zawahiri should remain a U.S. objective, but without the media hype. Because by doing this, we are in a sense helping to resurrect them for their dwindling band of followers. The less heed we pay them publicly, the more quickly they will fade away into obscurity.

In concentrating on bin Laden and al-Zawahiri, we may be focusing on the symptoms rather than the disease. Let us be clear: if one or both of them are eliminated tomorrow, al-Qaeda, which has become a transnational enterprise, will not fold. It is not even known how much influence these two fugitives continue to exercise on al-Qaeda’s global reach.

Violent extremism is like a chronic disease. It cannot be eradicated but its effects can be considerably mitigated by a combination of soft power and hard power, with soft power being the predominant element in the mix. The U.S. and the West should focus on winning hearts and minds of the people in whose midst violent extremists operate.

Once we empower these people by making them stakeholders in peaceful economic development, violent extremists will be marginalized. Right now the U.S. seems to be relying much more on hard power in Afghanistan and Iraq. Such an approach — far from being crowned with success — is likely to put the U.S. on the slippery path to ultimate failure.

– S. Azmat Hassan

January 7, 2010
UN, Rwanda and investors entangled in Congo’s future

A UN peacekeeping armored personnel carrier patrols the roads. Rutshuru, North Kivu, 2008. Photo: Michael J. Kavanagh

Contributor Michael J. Kavanagh reported for Worldfocus last year on the crisis in eastern Congo. He’s currently based in the DR Congo’s capital, Kinshasa.

He discusses the controversy surrounding the United Nations’ peacekeeping mission, the problems with integration of rebels into Congolese Army ranks and the economic future of this resource-rich, war-torn country.

Q: Why has the UN’s peacekeeping mission come under such intense criticism in eastern Congo?

Michael J. Kavanagh: For the past year, the Congolese army has been fighting a group of Rwandan rebels known as the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) who’ve lived in eastern Congo for around 15 years.

They’re mostly Hutu and some of their leaders are implicated in the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. This military mission began in concert with the Rwandan army in January and February 2009. Since March, it’s been supported by the UN peacekeepers.

This has been hugely controversial because the military operations have caused the deaths of well over a thousand civilians, the rape of several thousand and the displacement of around a million people. Rwandan rebels and the Congolese army are both accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Peacekeepers were put in a difficult position as the operations progressed because their mandate essentially became contradictory: They’re supposed to protect civilians while at the same time support a Congolese army that’s often killing civilians.

A former CNDP rebel holds a rocket propelled grenade at a ceremony for rebel integration into the Congolese army. Masisi, North Kivu, 2009. Photo: Michael J. Kavanagh

Q: Earlier this year, as part of a deal between Rwanda and Congo, the Rwandan-backed CNDP rebel group was integrated into the ranks of the Congolese army. How has this impacted the conflict in eastern Congo?

Michael J. Kavanagh: A year ago the UN released a report saying that Rwanda was supporting a rebel group in eastern Congo known as the National Congress for the Defense of the People, or CNDP. The international community pressured Rwanda to stop this and now after nearly 15 years of fighting each other, Rwanda and Congo are nominally allies.

The CNDP has been integrating into the Congolese army over the past year as part of a peace deal, but they are still committing massive atrocities in eastern Congo, they’re just now wearing Congolese Army uniforms. Their leader, Bosco Ntaganda, is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

Various human rights groups and even the UN itself have documented these atrocities by ex-CNDP forces, but the Congolese government has been hesitant to complain because they don’t want to upset their new (peaceful) relationship with Rwanda.

Meanwhile, tiny-but-powerful Rwanda benefits from the illegal trade in natural resources in eastern Congo, as do other neighboring countries like Uganda and Burundi and Tanzania. So this is still a regional problem that requires a regional, political solution as much as a military one.

Displaced families finding shelter in a school. Kiwanja, North Kivu, 2008. Photo: Michael J. Kavanagh

Q: The peacekeeping mission in Congo is the UN’s largest. How relevant is the UN’s mission there? What will happen when the mandate expires in five months?

Michael J. Kavanagh: The UN mission in Congo is huge – its budget is more than $1.4 billion a year and over 20,000 soldiers and civilians work for it. But you need to remember how big Congo is – it’s the size of western Europe with 60+ million people.

We’re asking a lot of these peacekeepers — probably more than they can provide given their resources and the difficulty of operating in Congo. Besides basic logistical issues, the Congolese government and army have not always been partners in good faith, nor have other regional partners like Rwanda and Uganda.

Over the last 10 years, the results of the peacekeeping mission have been mixed. So on December 23, the UN renewed its mandate for only five months instead of the usual 12, to send a sign that they were rethinking how the mission would do business.

They’re attaching conditionality to the support of the Congolese army — no civilian protection, no support. The UN is also asking for mechanisms to regulate the flow of illegal natural resources that are being used to enrich elements in various armed groups as well as some international companies.

Congo will celebrate 50 years of independence in June, and the government wants the UN to start drawing down its troops, but with major security issues in the east and other problems in the northeast (with the Lord’s Resistance Army) and center (a new insurgency) of the country, it’s hard to see how the Congo can afford to let UN peacekeepers leave.

For all its problems, the UN mission still provides essential services in Congo – perhaps too many, some argue – and the new mandate says another year will be added to the mandate in June.

Rwandan Defense Forces march through Pinga, North Kivu, a former FDLR stronghold, in 2009. Photo: Michael J. Kavanagh

Q: How do Congo’s rich natural resources play into the conflict?

Michael J. Kavanagh: In December, the annual UN group of experts report on Congo outlined how armed groups were exploiting minerals like gold and tin ore to support their fighting. Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda were all implicated in the trafficking, as were a number of international companies.

Non-governmental armed groups control some mines and they tax transport routes in eastern Congo. The Congolese army – in particular ex-CNDP elements – also control mines and transport routes. The illegal trafficking is worth tens of millions of dollars, if not more.

The UN, EU, and U.S., among others, are all working on mechanisms to regulate the exploitation of minerals – something Congo needs for development – and hold individuals and companies accountable for illegal trafficking.

Q: Recently the IMF gave Congo a new loan of more than $500 million for showing signs of economic progress. What do you make of this?

Michael J. Kavanagh: It’s a big deal. The IMF will be giving Congo well over half a billion dollars in loans over the next three years through a program intended to increase growth and reduce poverty.

The loan program is an explicit signal to international donors that in spite of ongoing conflict in the east, Congo is making macroeconomic progress, and if that progress continues, Congo could be eligible for debt relief under a World Bank and IMF program called the Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative, or HIPC.

You have to remember that after 15 years of war, years of dictatorship and rapacious colonialism before that, Congo is one of the poorest countries in the world.

Even with vast natural resources, the government is struggling to fix its infrastructure and pay its army, police and civil servants. IMF and World Bank loans and debt forgiveness are critical for the country to rebuild itself.

Forgiveness of most of Congo’s old debt (much of which was accumulated during years of dictatorship and war) would allow Congo to take on new debt to pay for new development and services.

A construction worker at a refugee camp takes a break during a rainstorm. Goma, North Kivu, 2009. Photo: Michael J. Kavanagh

Q: Are foreign investors optimistic about investing in Congo?

Michael J. Kavanagh: A few months ago, Congo completed a two and a half year review of international mining contracts, which was necessary but has been highly controversial.

At the moment, Congo is still renegotiating its mining contract with Phoenix-based Freeport McMoRan over one of the biggest copper and cobalt deposits in the world and it canceled a huge copper and cobalt contract with Canadian mining giant First Quantum last Fall.

This has created uncertainty regarding foreign investment in Congo.

On the one hand, many of these contracts were negotiated during the war and even if they’re legal, they’re not necessarily fair and needed to be renegotiated.

On the other hand, the mining review was far from transparent. It’s created an uneasy environment for potential and existing investors.

Growing and regulating its mining sector is probably the most important thing Congo can do to extricate itself from poverty; it’s also the sector most vulnerable to corruption.

One final prediction for the coming year: Angola and Congo have been allies for years, but there’s now a dispute over huge oil deposits off the coast of the two countries. It looks like Angola has been exploiting oil belonging to Congo, and the case has been sent to an international arbiter.

Angola is quietly furious, and this could seriously damage the relationship between the two countries and be a source of conflict over the next year. Something to think about, because Angola has always been the Congo’s ally of last resort when it’s faced serious security challenges.

– Lisa Biagiotti and Christine Kiernan

For more of Michael’s reporting, visit Worldfocus’ Crisis in Congo extended coverage page.

January 7, 2010
West African leaders pledge to battle corruption

Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson

Ayo Johnson is a contributing blogger for Worldfocus. He writes about how West African presidents are taking the lead in the fight against corruption.

The presidents of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ghana are raising the bar for the continent by declaring publicly their commitment to fight corruption.

The Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma became the first head of state to declare his assets to the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission. President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia went one step further,  offering financial incentives for whistleblowers to expose corrupt officials. The Ghanaian President John Atta-Mills has refused to accept gifts from anyone.

All three presidents have sent the vitally important message: corruption will not be accepted in any form.

The issue of corruption has long been a cancer and a shameful scourge on the African continent. It is estimated that corruption cost the African continent over $150 billion a year. That is money that could have been spent on health education and building up the rural economy.

As awareness of issues surrounding corruption has intensified in the world, some African nations like Sierra Leone are now beginning to change their laws to make it harder for corrupt officials to stash stolen money in foreign banks.

The presidents of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ghana have shown great courage and exemplary leadership by leading the fight against corruption for the rest of Africa to follow.

Developed nations in the West now have a positive role to play, in promoting good governance and monitoring poorer economies.

– Ayo Johnson

An editorial in Sierra Leone’s Daily Mail echos that sentiment.

‘Cor­rup­tion in Africa ranges from high-level polit­i­cal graft on the scale of mil­lions of dol­lars to low-level bribes to police offi­cers or cus­toms offi­cials. In as much as polit­i­cal graft imposes the largest direct finan­cial cost on coun­try, petty bribes have a cor­ro­sive effect on basic insti­tu­tions and under­mine pub­lic trust in the gov­ern­ment…. Africans must demand trans­parency and account­abil­ity in gov­ern­ment. Inde­pen­dent Cor­rup­tion watch­dogs free from gov­ern­ment con­trol and influ­ence must be estab­lished to inves­ti­gate, pros­e­cute and severely pun­ish offi­cials who engage in cor­rupt prac­tices. The peo­ple should be given access to state rev­enue sta­tis­tics in all its form through pub­li­ca­tion in local media. We must take con­trol of our country’s finances and end this era of cor­rup­tion and mis­man­age­ment of our wealth and resources.

With the recent discovery of oil in Sierra Leone, investors are pouring into the country looking to get a piece of the liquid gold. This article from the Daily Nation reports on the oil discovery and its link to corruption.

Sierra Leone’s anti-corruption commissioner has a simple message for foreign investors coming to his country for its mines and oil — offer bribes and you could find yourself in prison….The former human rights and insurance lawyer said his commission would have no compunction about prosecuting corrupt foreign investors in court in the capital Freetown, and that could land them in a Sierra Leonean prison.

Still, anti-corruption efforts face serious challenges in Africa.  Among them, as Forbes columnist John Hooker argues, are traditional practices that worked well in different settings in many non-Western countries.

In a traditional village context, African leaders earned respect by judiciously bestowing gifts and favors on their subjects. That wasn’t simply a patronage system; it was also a form of rational redistribution. The chief channeled wealth where it was most needed, increasing the community’s survival advantage. With the coming of colonialism and Western-style institutions, men frequently left villages to take government jobs in the capital. They continued to use gifts to obtain influence, but they left behind the social context that had structured and guided the practice. Responsible generosity became irresponsible influence peddling.

Business executives operating in Africa today should try to earn the influence they need through responsible generosity. They might build infrastructure or schools instead of paying off officials or political parties. There–and in general–the key to avoiding corruption is to understand what makes the local business culture work, and to stick to practices that reinforce the system, not ones that tear it apart.

– Stephanie Savage

January 6, 2010
The view from Jordan on C.I.A. deaths in Afghanistan

The funeral for the Jordanian “handler” killed in the bomb attack. Photo: Al Jazeera

Jordanian blogger Naseem Tarawnah writes about the Jordanian double agent who killed seven C.I.A. members in Afghanistan this week — and the event’s impact on Jordanians.

It took less than 48 hours later for more information to emerge that the suicide bomber was Jordanian. In Amman, everyone seemed to have seen this piece of information scrawl across the screen of an Al Jazeera news ticker. Al Jazeera’s information was coming from a Taliban spokesperson, and this news was, naturally, quickly denied by the Jordanian government, which, naturally, spoke too soon…

Apparently, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, was a 36-year old doctor from Zarqa…

Interestingly enough, Balawi was “turned” after being arrested in 2007 for his activities on an extremist website that was being monitored by authorities. Balawi became an administrator of the site where he operated under the screen name of Abu Dujana al-Khorasani. Moreover, he was also a Jordanian blogger who according to sources, had a Maktoob-hosted blog that seems to still be accessible but seems to have had its archives flushed.

According to sources, Balawi was a trusted informant despite his extremist tendencies, which were probably the same tendencies the CIA and Jordan’s General Intelligence Department (GID) were using to their advantage when they used him as an informant with Al Qaeda’s circles. It is however astonishing that both the CIA and GID, despite the notoriety of both intelligence entities in their field, were duped by this one man they had working for them, who turns out was a triple agent.

It is very likely that Jordan will be given its share of the blame for its responsibility in arresting, turning and bringing Balawi to the attention of the CIA in the first place. But, even more embarrassing for Jordan is its CIA connection, which while relatively well-known before, has now been put out in the public sphere for all to see – especially the Arab street.

The Jordanian government will likely go on as if nothing ever happened, believing that Jordanians have no access to information, but being that we live in the information age where practically every Jordanian household has Al Jazeera and a million other channels, this is one piece of information that isn’t going to be kept quiet.

This is, of course, a subject that the state considers to be the very definition of a “red line.” I assume most journalists will be avoiding the issue like the plague, lest they be charged with the notoriously overused “attempting to harm the state’s relations” charge. However, the problem with such a charge, at least this time around, is that it seems the GID has done a pretty good job of doing the “harming” all by itself. It is the very definition of shooting oneself in the foot.

The repercussions are akin to opening Pandora’s Box. Jordan has lost tremendous face and what little political capital it had in a region where pretty much every country has a CIA connection they keep quiet. Moreover, they have given both Al Qaeda as well as Jordanians with extremist tendencies, a hero – a martyr to admire.

– Naseem Tarawnah

January 4, 2010
Using human development as antidote to Islamic terrorism

Alleged Christmas Day bomber when he was in Yemen. Photo: Al Jazeera

Ambassador S. Azmat Hassan is a former Ambassador of Pakistan to Malaysia, Syria and Morocco and Deputy Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations. He is currently an adjunct professor at Seton Hall University and is a contributing Worldfocus blogger.

Umar Abdulmutallab’s audacious attempt on Christmas Day — to ignite explosives that he had smuggled on board a Northwest Airlines flight approaching Detroit from Holland — has been a top story for the past few days.

Quick thinking by passengers who pinned him down averted what could have been a major tragedy.

Abdulmutallab is quoted as saying that he obtained the deadly explosives from al-Qaeda agents operating in Yemen. He reportedly spent some time in Yemen recently and presumably got indoctrinated there to attack Americans in the sky.

Parallels with Richard Reid, the so-called “shoe bomber” who tried something similar 8 years ago, come immediately to mind.

A somber President Obama said that the obvious security lapse, which allowed a passenger to smuggle explosives sewn in his underwear, was “unacceptable.”

More interestingly, Abdulmutallab’s father, a retired banker, had gone to the U.S. embassy in Nigeria late last year to warn it that his son had been radicalized. Further, that he was a potential menace to the United States. It is not known why the father’s courageous denunciation of his son did not have the desired effect of putting him on the no-fly list.

Five American youth are in custody in Pakistan because their parents had notified the FBI that they were missing and might be in contact with al-Qaeda. This example shows that the Muslim community worldwide is becoming more proactive in revealing contemplated acts of violent extremism emanating from their kith and kin.

Obama is right to order a thorough probe of the Christmas day bombing incident. Better sharing of intelligence among the American security agencies is key to thwarting such attempts to harm Americans. The Department of Homeland Security, the CIA and others must cooperate in getting to the bottom of this security failure.

There are an estimated 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide. Islam is the second largest religion after Christianity. A minuscule proportion of Muslim young men, for a variety reasons, become radicalized. Extremist organizations recruit them after pointing to alleged U.S. culpability in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Such alienation leading to radical behavior is not peculiar to Islam. It exists in other major religions as well. Blaming Islam for the acts of a few individuals exhibits both ignorance and bias.

Obama should also be very cautious about getting embroiled in Yemen, a desperately poor country with a weak government facing more than one violent insurgency. He already has his hands full in Iraq and Afghanistan. By all means, Yemen’s counter-terrorism apparatus needs U.S. advice and financial support. But an even more critical need is to use soft power for human development.

If the energies of hundreds of thousands of young Yemenis could be channeled into gainful employment, they are much less likely to be recruited by extremist organizations. Al-Qaeda and their ilk find a ready clientele in poverty-ridden and fragmented states such as Somalia, Yemen, and Afghanistan — and in the lawless tribal areas abutting the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Poverty was not the motivating factor with Abdulmutallab. He came from an affluent background and was educated in Britain. This goes to show that violent extremism has many faces. It is not possible to build a single profile of what motivates radicalization.

It is virtually impossible to eradicate violent extremism root and branch in our far from perfect world. But the international community — working together and taking affirmative action in impoverished areas of the globe — can certainly reduce such incidents.

Human development is the single most effective antidote to such behavior.

– S. Azmat Hassan

December 31, 2009
Pashtunistan faces huge escalation of U.S. anti-terror war

The flag of Pashtunistan. Courtesy: Wiki user Jolle

Worldfocus multimedia producer Ben Piven writes about the U.S. war in Pashtunistan, an often misunderstood place not found on any world map.

The knee-jerk American reaction after September 11th was to strike at the Taliban-ruled nation that was harboring a sizable, international al-Qaeda contingent: Afghanistan.

But these days, it is becoming ever more clear that the U.S. has widened its campaign to the region that some people call Pashtunistan — the area historically inhabited by ethnic Pashtuns.

The vast majority both of al-Qaeda operatives and of Taliban militants who oppose the U.S. are located in Pashtunistan, with little regard for the arbitrary Durand Line drawn by the British that technically separates Pakistan from Afghanistan. The Guardian described the region last year as a “Grand Central Station for Islamic terrorists.”

A number of recent articles highlight that the U.S. is no longer merely involved in counter-insurgency against Afghan terrorists. As drone attacks against targets in Pakistan escalate, allegations arise that the U.S. is actually much more involved in Pakistan than previously known.

A New York Times article from earlier this month suggests that the Obama plan for a troop increase ignores the reality of Pashtunistan:

In his address [December 1], the president mentioned Pakistan and the Pakistanis some 25 times, and called Pakistan and Afghanistan collectively “the epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by Al Qaeda.”

But he might have had an easier time explaining what he was really proposing had he set the national boundaries aside and told Americans that the additional soldiers and marines were being sent to another land altogether: Pashtunistan.

That land is not on any map, but it’s where leaders of Al Qaeda and the Taliban both hide. It straddles 1,000 miles of the 1,600-mile Afghan-Pakistani border. It is inhabited by the ethnic Pashtuns, a fiercely independent people that number 12 million on the Afghan side and 27 million on the Pakistani side. They have a language (Pashto), an elaborate traditional code of legal and moral conduct (Pashtunwali), a habit of crossing the largely unmarked border at will, and a centuries-long history of foreign interventions that ended badly for the foreigners.

Whether Mr. Obama will have better luck there than President George W. Bush, the Soviet Politburo and British prime ministers back to the early 19th century remains to be seen. But it is there that the war will be fought, because it is there that the Taliban were spawned and where they now regroup, attack and find shelter, for themselves and their Qaeda guests.

Today, the enemies of the United States are nearly all in Pashtunistan, an aspirational name coined long ago by advocates of an independent Pashtun homeland. From bases in the Pakistani part of it — the Federally Administered Tribal Areas toward the north and Baluchistan province in the south — Afghan Taliban leaders, who are Pashtuns, have plotted attacks against Afghanistan. It is also from the Pakistani side of Pashtunistan that Qaeda militants have plotted terrorism against the West.

And an article by Pepe Escobar in the Asia Times looks at the region’s hopes for self-determination:

Tribal Pashtuns (from eastern Afghanistan to western Pakistan) have never given up on being united again. Everyone familiar with AfPak knows the region is still paying the price for the fateful and – what else – divide-and-rule British imperial decision in 1897 to split tribal Pashtuns through the artificial Durand Line. The line remains the artificial border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Anyone who ever crossed it at, for instance, Torkham, at the foot of the Khyber pass, knows it is meaningless; people swarming on both sides are all cousins who never stopped dreaming of a pre-colonial, Afghan Durrani empire that straddled a great deal of contemporary Pakistan.

Few have noticed that Pashtuns were recently insisting on a very basic demand – that North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) in Pakistan have its name changed to Pakhtunkhwa (“Land of the Pashtuns”). The demand was shot down this past September by the dominant Punjabis in Pakistan. Pashtun nationalists protested en masse in fabled Peshawar, the NWFP capital. Pashtun national liberation is at fever pitch. Pashtun Guevaras are already issuing a call to arms.

But as much as Washington, now with a little help from its friend/client government of President Asif Ali Zardari in Islamabad, has been conducting essentially a war on Pashtuns since 2001, this is no monolithic movement. It all goes back to the early 21st-century maxim that virtually every Taliban is a Pashtun, but not every Pashtun is a Taliban. There are significant strands of secular Pashtuns that shun the TTP [Pakistani Taliban] and its brand of Islamic fundamentalist dystopian dogma, even while the Pashtun masses may see in the TTP the ideal vehicle for the advent of Pashtunistan.

If we follow the money, we see that the TTP in Pakistan is now being financed mostly by wealthy, pious Gulf businessmen and not anymore by Islamabad. The financiers are more interested in jihad than in Pashtun nationalism, and that undermines the legitimacy of the Taliban as vehicles for Pashtun nationalism.

An opinion piece titled “Welcome to Pashtunistan” in The National last week described a covert CIA-funded operation in Pakistan by Xe, the company formerly known as Blackwater. The author, retired Pakistani military officer Shaukat Qadir, alleges that the U.S. has plans to destabilize Pakistan’s government in order to stabilize the broader region in the long-term.

Qadir also suggests that even though U.S.-funded operatives are in Karachi and Peshawar, they have failed to hunt down most of the top al-Qaeda figures.

Security analysts often argue that the current Afghan insurgency is at heart a Pashtun movement — organized and directed by Pashtuns in Pakistan.

If true, Qadir’s assertions would prove that the U.S. has long been devoting significant resources to combating terror in the Pakistani half of Pashtunistan:

[Blackwater’s] presence in Pakistan has been an open secret for some years. The investigative journalist and writer Jeremy Scahill, an authority on Blackwater and author of the bestselling Blackwater: the Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, revealed last month that it has been there since 2006. He says Blackwater is being employed for covert ops, essentially intended to target high-value al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden, but it has also assisted in providing information for drone attacks and has kidnapped suspects and transported them covertly to the U.S. for interrogation…

Mr. Scahill does not engage in speculation, and is not to be taken lightly. So when he states that Xe is sitting in Karachi, he is not likely to be wrong. He has added that the operation is so secret that many senior people in the Obama administration were unaware of it.

However, he seems to have erred in one respect: Xe is not only in Karachi. It also has a massive presence in Islamabad and Peshawar, where I understand the organization has rented up to seven adjacent houses. Neighbors who heard muffled explosions soon after the houses were occupied suspect that they are linked by underground tunnels.

Along with massively expanded counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan, the U.S. appears to be quickly but quietly escalating its war in Pakistan.

Over the next few years, we can expect more intensive drone strikes, heightened Pakistani military efforts and a increasingly blurry line that separates the two halves of Pashtunistan.

– Ben Piven

December 30, 2009
In poll, overwhelming majority of Chinese support execution

Girls with bound feet smoking dope in an opium den in Canton. Photo: Flickr user Okinawa Soba

Hsin-Yin Lee, a former associate producer at Worldfocus, is a news editor at the “China Times” in Taipei.

In China, the dispute over U.K. citizen Akmal Shaikh’s execution is becoming off the point quickly. The issue now is neither about judicatory independence nor human rights but rather, “on whose side is history?”

The Chinese Embassy said in a statement that the “strong resentment” felt by the Chinese public against drug traffickers was the product of “the bitter memory of history.” What Chinese authorities are referring to here is the two Opium Wars fought between China and Great Britain and its allies in the middle of the 19th century.

To me, what the Chinese authorities said is quite fair — the Chinese public doesn’t forget, and doesn’t forgive.

Every Chinese knows that during the dark time of their history — when the society was backward and the government struggled for modernization — it was Britain and other Western powers that relentlessly dumped bad materials and bad ideas on the country.

In an online survey held by the Chinese media more than 97% of the 15,000 participants voted “yes” when asked if they supported the execution of Shaikh. In fact, most Chinese people used the same emoticon to express their feelings.

Angry and cynical remarks are everywhere: “There is only one answer–yes–if you are Chinese,” “I am not sure if that Briton is out of his mind, but I am sure the British prime minister is out of his mind to ask for pardon,” “We are not going to lose the modern Opium War,” and “We should have executed the Brit in Humen Town!” [Humen is the place where Chinese authority supervised the destruction of seized opium on the brink of Opium War.]

In fact, when any controversy touches on China’s national pride these days, it’s often “end of discussion.” As a Chinese, I must say that the idea of “sweet revenge” did occur to me. The thought, however, is not only irresponsible but also dangerous.

What troubles me is that I have seen more and more of a nationalist-oriented agenda being used–from China’s stand on emission-cutting to a recent Sino-U.S. dispute over anti-dumping tariffs. History should be used as a mirror that allows us to look back as we march forward, not one that reflects only hatred and bias.

If the Chinese people refuse to think hard about important issues but instead go for convenient solutions, then what they really are doing is to commit the same error they did during the Opium War — deluding themselves.

– Hsin-Yin Lee

December 29, 2009
Top 10 Worldfocus Perspectives of 2009

Worldfocus presents highlights from our Perspectives section, which features the work of regular contributors to the broadcast and website.

Read their most compelling personal accounts and commentary from 2009, touching on subjects ranging from the seemingly-endless war in eastern Congo to pop culture in North Korea.


“Slumdog” immigrant waits for U.S. Green Card lifeline

Rajeet Mohan is an Indian living in the U.S. on an H-1B visa. He shares his frustrating immigration experience and offers some solutions to retain and leverage highly-skilled immigrants in the U.S.

War still rages on in corners of eastern Congo

Michael J. Kavanagh reports on the conflicting news coming out of eastern Congo. In the region’s most remote areas, Kavanagh has seen victims of attempted massacres, torture and kidnappings, as well as sex slaves.

Taiwanese baseball fans outraged by game-fixing charges

Hsin-Yin Lee writes how a game-fixing scandal has rocked Taiwanese professional baseball. Fans are wondering whether there is a future for the island’s beloved sport. Evidence says Taiwan’s league is all mobbed up.

Gay men in Jamaica must lead two separate lives

Lisa Biagiotti shares the story of a gay Jamaican who received asylum in the U.S. on the basis of his sexuality. While he is now free from persecution, he struggles with his identity and still conceals his sexuality from family members.

Watching Oprah in a Syrian refugee camp

Kristen Gillespie produced two signatures stories out of Jordan for Worldfocus. She writes about the global reach of “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which has impacted a refugee living in a Syrian refugee camp.

Drone attacks deaden diplomatic track in Pakistan

S. Azmat Hassan argues that U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan will not succeed in fighting the Taliban. He outlines Taliban groups on both sides of the border and explains the Pakistani reluctance to take on the Afghan Taliban.

Sweet dreams of Beyonce in N. Korean people’s paradise

Part 4 of 6 of our Inside the Hermit Kingdom series on the people and culture of North Korea. Ben Piven writes about popular music, food and beer in the most isolated country on earth. Believe it or not, North Koreans know Beyonce.

Cuba provides free health care without the worry

Apropos of the current health care debate in the United States — what happens when a government you dislike does some good things? Cuba has a startling level of health care, writes Worldfocus blogger Peter Eisner.

A Burmese family’s story of multiple arrests, weekly bribes
Karen Zusman writes about one Burmese family caught up in the human trafficking on the border. In June, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Report blacklisted Malaysia for trafficking refugees into Thailand.

Post-Tiananmen, it’s no easier seeking human rights abroad

On the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, Nina Hachigian writes that in the last 20 years, while standards of living in China have risen dramatically, political reform has stalled and dissidents continue to live in terror.

December 22, 2009
Making spirits bright through holiday shopping in Japan

Breath Palette toothpaste

Hsin-Yin Lee, a former associate producer at Worldfocus, is a news editor at the “China Times” in Taipei.

Christmas is in the air, but Japanese salarymen see no reason to celebrate. Recent statistics said the average year-end bonus at major Japanese companies this year plunged by 15.01 percent to 755,628 yen, or around $8,400. It is also the first double-digit decline for winter bonuses and the sharpest year-on-year drop since the records began in 1959.

But even in slow times like this, the market manages to react fast. With personalized campaigns featuring lower prices, greater variety, and– perhaps most important of all– a sense of optimism, retailers in Japan are successfully attracting customers who have limited budgets.

For instance, Prince Hotel in Tokyo recently launched a special offer called “My X’mas.” Unlike traditional campaigns that target couples during the holiday season, the “single youth plan” allows single customers to put aside their daily routine and indulge in a personalized getaway. For $70, customers can enjoy 5-star services, including a Japanese traditional meal and a bonus “Christmas cake for one.”

Meanwhile, the fashion business adopts the “sensation” strategy to make their customers feel special. Breath Palette, a new line of boutique toothpastes, has become the recent must-have for Japanese celebrities. With 31 flavors such as L’Espresso, pumpkin pudding, cola, and Indian curry, (and who doesn’t love curry?) each flavor represents a day of the month so customers can change their mood on a daily basis.

For those who are not satisfied with only 31 choices for one product, Hoya recently introduced a digital SLR camera that features a total of 100 colors. Described as “geeky tech gifts for 2009 ” the product immediately became the most eye-catching item on the shelf.

As long as the recession continues, the unconventional campaigns will go on. In fact, psychologists said that such strategy–namely the “lipstick index“– works well in tough times. With the suggestion that lipstick sales go up during bad economic times, the index refers to consumption that helps consumers feel better about themselves when they face a dismal financial outlook.

Decorated by smart businessmen, winter in Japan seems less dull. After all, in the holiday season, what people want is actually quite simple– a way to have themselves a merry little Christmas.

Hsin-Yin Lee

December 17, 2009
2009 marks decade’s deadliest year for African journalists

Radio journalist Hassan Suber was killed in the recent blast in Somalia. Photo: Shabelle

This year was the deadliest year for African journalists since 2000, according to an analysis by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The organization confirmed 12 cases of journalists in sub-Saharan Africa killed while reporting. In Somalia, nine local journalists were murdered or killed in combat situations.

Tom Rhodes is the Africa Program Coordinator at CPJ. He writes about the deteriorating situation for journalists in Somalia and explains why this figure is especially startling considering that sub-Saharan Africa has historically had one of the lowest journalist murder rates.

On the very first day of 2009, a Somali reporter from one of the leading independent stations, Radio Shabelle, was shot by a government soldier in a town outside the capital, Mogadishu.

This month, three journalists died in a suicide bomb blast set off by the notorious Al-Shabaab insurgents during a graduation ceremony held in Mogadishu.

“You never know what the day will bring in Mogadishu,” said Mustafa Haji Abdinur, editor-in-chief of Mogadishu’s Radio Simba who received CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award this year. “I basically live in my office due to the insecurity, it’s impossible for journalists to venture too far from their office –the few of us still here are basically prisoners to our work.”

Watch Martin Savidge interview Mustafa Haji Abdinur: Somali journalist on culture of violence and crippled press.

The heavy death toll in Somalia has led to an exodus of journalists, with at least a third of Somali journalists living in exile, the National Union of Somali Journalists estimates. Those that remain in the country work under extreme duress, where self-censorship is pivotal to a journalist’s survival. Al-Shabaab now control southern and central Somalia, including the airwaves. Major towns such as Baidoa and Kismayo now only broadcast Al-Shabaab radio.

But it is not only war-torn countries that have targeted African journalists.

Other journalists were murdered while investigating local corruption in Nigeria and Kenya or covering the political crisis in Madagascar. CPJ is investigating the cases of two other journalists in Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo to determine whether their deaths were related to journalism.

No perpetrator in any of the African cases has been brought to justice. Such a record sends a chilling message to local reporters: you can be killed, at any time, without repercussions.

Impunity towards the killers of journalists in Africa is unfortunately not a new phenomenon. This week also marks the anniversary of two unsolved murders of veteran journalists: the 1998 killing of Norbert Zongo from Burkina Faso and the 2004 murder of Gambian editor Deyda Hydara. Despite their popularity within their respective countries, local journalists hold little confidence in authorities to actively pursue their cases.

Africa’s high rate of killed journalists reflects a morbid trend seen across the world.

At least 68 journalists were killed for their work in 2009 — the highest yearly tally ever documented by CPJ. The nature of journalists’ deaths in Africa also reflects a global pattern: most were local reporters and most were murdered. As in past years, murder was the leading cause of work-related deaths in 2009 worldwide, representing about three quarters of the cases.

As media outlets scale back on costs and rely more and more on local reporters for their international coverage, the more we may see this trend increase. For this reason, among many others, the death of journalists in Africa and worldwide should be a matter of concern for everyone.

– Tom Rhodes

Perspectives highlights the best of the blogosphere by cross-posting columns culled from a network of contributors. We cut through the noise of tens of millions of bloggers worldwide and bring you commentary from experts and voices on the ground.

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